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The former referee opened up on how the London club accused him of racism when he handled the Blues versus Man United showdown years ago
Former referee Mark Clattenburg has revealed how the John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata incident almost cost him his career in 2012.
The English official took charge of the Premier League showdown in which Manchester United defeated Chelsea 3-2 at Stamford Bridge in October 2012.
In the ill-tempered encounter, Branislav Ivanovic, and Fernando Torres were given their marching orders.
The Football Association investigated Clattenburg after the Blues claimed he had used racist language towards African star Mikel and Spain’s Mata, but the referee was soon cleared of any misconduct.
In his autobiography ‘Whistle Blower’ as per The Daily Mail, the 46-year-old wrote that the contentious incident almost cost him his job.
“I knew to expect a tirade of abuse from Chelsea supporters, but I was not beating myself up over my performance. It was then that I heard a commotion outside the dressing-room door,” wrote Clattenburg.
What the hell’s going on out there? Before I get to the door it swings open, and with some force. I jump back, instinctively. What the f***? John Obi Mikel bursts in. I can see the rage in his eyes. Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo and coach Eddie Newton are holding him back. Mikel is out of control, he’s trying to get at me. ‘I’m gonna break your legs!’ he shouts. F****** hell, he’s swinging for me. There are arms everywhere. I’m ducking to avoid them. A security guy is grappling with Mikel, pulling him away. That’s not easy, Mikel is strong. I’ve got my boots on, I’m slipping all over the place. I’m knocked backwards into some seats. I just try to defend myself. He’s still hellbent on hurting me. Get him out of here! Mikel is eventually dragged back into the corridor. What the f*** has just happened?
Di Matteo eventually returned to my dressing-room. Like me, he was shaking. I got the impression Chelsea were concerned about what I was going to include in my report.
I have to be clear here – and this is extremely important – at this point there had been no mention of racism to me, either from Mikel or Di Matteo. No one had made any accusation of that nature.
“I left Stamford Bridge in the people-carrier and as we made our way out of West London towards Heathrow, there’s a social-media notification on the screen of my phone saying: ‘BREAKING NEWS: CHELSEA ACCUSE REFEREE MARK CLATTENBURG OF RACIST COMMENTS’,” he continued.
“During those early hours overnight on the Sunday of the game, I realised the power of football clubs, the hold they have over the media. It was terrifying. It was the European champions against a referee – who would you believe?
“I am trapped. This could ruin my career. It could ruin my life. The fear is worse than going to prison. I am being called a racist.
“That is a real life-sentence, you don’t come back from that. Guilty until proven innocent, that is the English way.”
I am trapped. A prisoner in my own home. A prisoner in my own head. I am not allowed to speak. Not allowed to tell the world I am innocent. I can’t sleep. No chance. I’m upstairs, downstairs, cups of tea at 3 a.m. I’m reading the newspapers online. I’m watching the TV news. I’m checking social media. It’s not healthy but I need to know what is being said, I need to try to make sense of this. The bolt is on the door but my head is being invaded by the outside world. If I dare to look out from the window the photographers and journalists are there, waiting. Then they hide, like snipers, all around, all wanting the first picture. There have been lots of tears. This could ruin my career. It could ruin my life. The fear is worse than going to prison. I am being called a racist. That is a real life-sentence, you don’t come back from that. Guilty until proven innocent, that is the English way.
Back at home, locked away and struggling to sleep, obsessively going over the events of Sunday, I began to slip into a dark place. It was then that I found an unlikely friend.
‘Mark, it’s Sir Alex Ferguson,’ came the unmistakable Glaswegian accent down the phone.
I was such a wreck, I did not even say much back to him. ‘I have spoken to my players and they did not hear you say what Chelsea are alleging. We don’t believe you said it. I believe in fairness, so we will support you.’
Sir Alex did not have to make that call and he did not have to defend me in public, which he later did. But he did so because he believed what Chelsea were doing was wrong. He put his neck on the block, not for me, but in the name of truth and justice.
I was later told Chelsea threatened to sue him for insinuating they were lying. But Sir Alex stuck to his guns, he thought it was nonsense.
I was called to the first FA hearing in Manchester and spoke to my lawyer.
‘I’m adamant, I want to know the moment Chelsea say that this happened, then we can disprove it from the footage,’ I said to him.
The FA panel said they could not tell us because they did not know. My lawyer made the point that there must be more footage available and requested that the FA ask Chelsea to provide it. I was told Chelsea were awkward at first and it took a few days – and an FA reminder – before they handed over the feed from an overhead static camera.
I was called to a second interview. For the first time, three weeks after the game, Chelsea revealed the exact moment of their allegation. I believe Chelsea thought they were being clever, because there was a break in the TV footage as a replay was shown of a Robin van Persie shot. When the live pictures returned, I was on the screen with Mikel in the background. My lawyer said it looked like Chelsea were trying to make their allegation fit.
But now, because of the footage from the static camera, it proved beyond any doubt that I was nowhere near close enough to Ramires when he claimed to have heard me use those words. There were two more players in closer proximity to me than Ramires – Chelsea defender Ashley Cole and United striker Wayne Rooney – and both of them told the panel they had heard no racial language, and neither had Mikel.
Twenty-five days after the game, the FA dismissed the case. I was not guilty, something I had known all along.
Mikel was later given a three-match ban over the incident in the referee’s room and the FA explained to me they had to be careful not to be too harsh, because they did not want to deter other players from coming forward to report allegations of racism.
I make no apology for how I felt in that moment.
Three matches? Are the FA taking the p***? He should be banned for the rest of the season, if not more. Was this the real reason for Chelsea’s accusations against me? Was it all an attempt to mitigate against what Mikel had done? If so, Chelsea have won, Mikel has dodged the ban he deserved and I’m still the biggest loser in this. Hell, I have missed more matches than Mikel will. I’m furious.
The club had made my existence unbearable. They fed the media and left me exposed to the hate and suspicion. They did not care about the effect on my wife and baby daughter or my son at school, they only cared about themselves.
Chelsea and Mikel never did apologise. Am I surprised? Not at all, it fits entirely with their original disregard for me.
Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, did bring Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck to a meeting with all of the referees a few weeks after the verdict. The group were threatening to go on strike.
Buck showed up at St George’s Park and went around the room shaking everyone’s hand. He gestured to shake mine. Don’t you f****** dare. He moved on.
He did not make a good start when he said he did not understand what our issues were. We all looked at each other in disbelief – was this clown taking the p***? We left the meeting angrier than we had entered it.
As for Mikel, I have no time for him whatsoever. I cannot forgive someone who has refused to apologise to me.
While the FA investigated Chelsea’s complaint, Clattenburg missed four weekends of Premier League matches.
However, he was soon cleared with the FA handing Mikel a three-match ban and fined £60,000 for threatening the referee.
On the day after the verdict, the back page of the Daily Mail read, ‘Chelsea almost ruined Mark Clattenburg’s life – and they don’t even have the decency to say sorry.’ The article also speculated that I would pursue legal action against the club. They were right, I fully intended to. I was then told by Mike Riley that, to do so, I would first have to end my employment as a Premier League referee, if I wanted to sue a Premier League club. It quickly became apparent there would be opposition to me engaging lawyers against Chelsea. That frustrates me when I look back now.
I still believe Chelsea’s motive could have been a retaliation to John Terry’s suspension. The FA had found Terry guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand on the ‘balance of probability’. Chelsea believed, like the criminal investigation, it should have to be proven to the standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. Terry was found not guilty in a court of law. That is why, I believe, they may have pursued the allegation against me, to test the FA’s ‘balance of probability’ standard.
But I moved on in my career, I had to. So when I walked out to referee the finals of the Champions League and European Championship in 2016, it felt like a ‘f*** you’ to all of those who tried to destroy me. They had failed.
If I can take one positive, it is that the experience made me stronger.
Extracted from WHISTLE BLOWER by Mark Clattenburg, published on 30th September by Headline